Few NFL divisions are as intriguing as the NFC North entering the 2021 season. The Bears have themselves a new quarterback waiting in the wings. The Vikings might be a Super Bowl sleeper. The Lions are kicking off under a new regime. But no team has been responsible for more drama this offseason than the Packers, who are fresh off two straight trips to the NFC Championship but may or may not have reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers when they report to camp and later hit the field.
As Green Bay looks to remain an NFC heavyweight while potentially opening the year without its longtime superstar under center, here's a look at three critical training camp battles to watch:
QB (Aaron Rodgers' holdout vs. Jordan Love vs. Blake Bortles)
You don't need to be reminded this is Rodgers' job. But no one knows -- maybe not even Rodgers -- if No. 12 is going to show up after months of unconfirmed word that he's fed up and done with Packers brass. Should Rodgers extend his holdout, which officially began at mandatory minicamp, into late July and August, his shadow will loom large over whatever competition Matt LaFleur scrambles to assemble between Love and Bortles. Truth be told, though Bortles is far more experienced and could conceivably be trotted out as a safer Week 1 placeholder, Rodgers sitting out or being traded would almost guarantee Love the QB1 job. How else could management proceed, given it handpicked Love and his raw but promising arm as Rodgers' eventual successor?
WR (Amari Rodgers vs. Equanimeous St. Brown vs. Devin Funchess)
Davante Adams and Allen Lazard are locks atop the depth chart, albeit not necessarily jubilant ones in the event Rodgers never returns. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who quietly approached 700 yards in 2020, is a safe bet to be the No. 3. But behind the top trio, it's open season for the next job -- likely the No. 5 target behind tight end Robert Tonyan. Amari Rodgers is the clear-cut favorite for touches, entering as a third-round pick and potential gadget weapon, with the potential to work his way to No. 3 duties. If either St. Brown or Funchess can contribute meaningfully, that'd be a bonus; the latter still boasts potential as a red-zone option.
CB (Kevin King vs. Eric Stokes)
If the Packers weren't going to spend big to bolster wideout or offensive line this offseason, they could've justified going the veteran route at corner, where only Jaire Alexander is a proven and reliable cover man. Instead, they're banking on Stokes' athleticism paying early dividends, regardless of whether he beats out King for an outside starting job to start the year. Still, this is a fight with real implications. King is serviceable but beatable as a first-teamer, and yet Stokes, for all his promising traits, remains a rookie at a position that doesn't always produce instant studs. The Packers have a good defense, but they need more from their corners.